We headed into the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. Its vast ridge of volcanoes and lakes cut a bumpy north/south seam across a savannah of tall grass and scrub. An occasional Acacia tree stood alone on a flat section of plain, offering an umbrella of shade. It was more than a five-hour drive from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara game reserve where lions, cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, and hyenas roamed their home territory.

The 500-square-mile reserve was on Kenya’s southwestern border with Tanzania. Roads paved long ago had returned mostly to dirt, leaving craters of potholes that rattled your teeth. The dust was terrible. Even inside the van, it coated my nostrils and probably my sinus cavities.

It was near dark, and drizzling rain when we arrived at our campsite in a small grove. Our tent didn’t have electricity, so we used our flashlights to get our bearings, too impatient to wait for the tour company to bring us lanterns. Bigger than I expected, the sturdy, green canvas tent easily held its three cots. Behind the tent was an enclosed area that served as our bathroom. A pot (toilet) had been set over a hole. Nearby was the dirt pile, a shovel stuck in it along with a sign that read: Rhinos cover it, so can you. Our shower was a hanging canvas bag that you pulled on, while staring at the sky and swaying tree branches. There were fancier options, but to me, this was perfect.

I hadn’t slept much on the train from Mombasa, or in the van from Nairobi, but I still wasn’t tired. I was too excited. I was in Africa, going on an actual safari. My motto was quickly becoming: There’ll be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.

Our first game drive was at 6:00am the following morning. The first animals I saw? Giraffes. Nice of one of them to stand between the trees for my photo, don’t you think?

*Much of this post is taken from a journal I kept MANY years ago, while on Semester at Sea.

Know anyone who would enjoy an African safari?

Part III coming soon.